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Films >> Otra Conquista, La (The Other Conquest) (1998) >> Scene Analysis >>

A Beautiful Sacrifice

By Haydn Galloway, with comment by Kim Weber

[1] The Other Conquest uses very specific imagery to get its message across. This imagery is especially found in the human sacrifice scene during which the Spanish find the Aztec temple and try to put a stop to the sacrifice taking place inside. Although Salvador Carrasco’s message is very clear, he pushes the audience into a very biased viewpoint.

[2] Carrasco depicts the Spanish conquistadors in an almost comical way. As they run down the hill, they scream wildly to put a stop to the sacrifice with their swords waving, many of them slipping as they clamber downhill -- it is all very chaotic. When they finally reach the temple, Fray Diego approaches the monolith haltingly, like the apes in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (consciously so says Carrasco on the DVD commentary), and one Spaniard falls through the ceiling, giving the scene an almost slapstick comedic feel. Once inside the temple the Spanish run around bashing into the walls, setting alight effigies, and even rifling dead bodies. In short, Carrasco depicts the Spanish as barbaric clowns, forcing his opinion onto the audience. In the DVD director’s commentary, Carrasco states that he wanted to show the different sides of the Spanish soldiers by giving them all personalities. However, the personalities he gives them are “skinhead,” “slob,” and “Indian Hater.” These are obviously all negative stereotypes, again forcing the audience to see them in an off-putting light.

[3] In comparison, the Aztecs are depicted as calm and serene. Their movements are slow, poised, and dignified -- unlike the clambering Spaniards. Carrasco uses close ups on Xilonen, the sacrificial princess’s face, showing it to be peaceful and tranquil despite the fate that awaits her. The main colors Carrasco uses for the Aztecs are blues and turquoise greens, with the color of the body paint used on Xilonen and the soft lights that filter into the temple. These colors reflect calmness and serenity onto the viewer. Carrasco reassures the audience that despite this horrific sacrifice that is about to take place, it is a calming event, not one that should instill fear. Even the actors reassure the audience with a touching moment between Topiltzin and Xilonen. Topiltzin tells her that he is unsure about the sacrifice, to which she replies, “Do not suffer. This is what my heart desires.”

[4] The tranquil scenes of the Aztecs are spliced in between that of the barbaric Spaniards, emphasizing further the good/bad dichotomy. When the sacrifice finally takes place, the blue lighting and the calmness of those participating in the sacrifice reflects onto the audience, allowing the grotesque imagery to wash over them. The scene is so calm that the audience barely reacts to the murder taking place on screen. In the director’s commentary, Carrasco even states that he tried to Christianize the sacrifice in order for it to be accepted by its audience. This can be seen when the grandmother offers the sacrificial princess a mushroom to ease her pain. Carrasco notes that he specifically shot this to look like Xilonen was receiving Holy Communion.

[5] Carrasco once wrote: “In Mexico we are force-fed many of the mythical episodes from our history. Throughout childhood, we are told certain stories over and over until they lose all meaning. . . . Film gives us a wonderful opportunity to add new dimensions to such stagnant historical models. A good historical film can make people feel as if they're experiencing those events for the first time, perhaps even understanding them in a new way.” I feel that this completely contradicts the way he shot at least this section of The Other Conquest. By portraying the Spanish as incompetent clowns and then contrasting them with the serene Aztecs, the audience is forced to take sides with the Aztecs. The audiences can’t think for themselves since they are “force-fed” Carrasco’s personal affiliations. He even manages to make human sacrifice, something that is thought of as truly horrific in our society, into an almost beautiful moment. I understand that Carrasco is portraying the side of the Aztecs that is not normally depicted in mainstream films. However, perhaps if Carrasco had let history speak for itself and portrayed the film according to historical facts, the audience may have still come to the same conclusion of siding with the Aztecs, rather than having this idea forced upon them. (see comment by Kim Weber)


Kim Weber 2/14/12

I agree that Carrasco had clear goals in mind with the way he shot this scene and the things he tried to portray about both the Aztecs and Spanish (a calm, serene cultural tradition versus a chaotic and comical band of conquistadors). However, I don’t think the power of the viewer’s personal interpretation is given enough credit throughout this analysis. Galloway was clearly not troubled by the gore of this scene in his viewing, which allowed him to view the Aztecs’ ritual as serene. I had a much different experience. I found the scene, specifically the sacrifice itself, as completely abhorrent and disgusting and this totally colored the way I viewed the entire scene. It was unfathomable for me how the Aztecs could be so permissive of the gory violence that occurs in the scene. I was troubled to the point of being unable to watch some parts. Additionally, no matter how the scene was framed, I don't think that I (and some other viewers, I'm sure) would ever view this sort of gore in a non-negative light. For me, it would be impossible to see this content and not be troubled. Although Carrasco has made clear choices in the way he has depicted the scene, the success or failure of these choices is dictated largely by the viewer. I, for one, was equally repulsed by the gore of the Aztec ritual and the clumsiness of the Spanish takeover and the brutality with which the Spaniards massacred the Aztecs. For me, the scene created two “bads,” not an immediate “bad” and “good.” I don’t think the scene automatically causes the dichotomous understanding that Galloway is arguing for in this analysis.